Zorin Linux Is Heavy on the Windows Dressing

Zorin Linux 6.0 is a very capable replacement operating system for Microsoft Windows. It is also a bother-free alternative to other Linux distros that suffer from the usability issues of the Gnome 3 or Ubuntu Unity desktop interfaces.The Zorin Linux distro is an offshoot of Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux but it has much more of the look and feel of Linux Mint with a few very substantial differences. These make Zorin an ideal choice for Windows users and others who dislike having to learn a new approach to computing.

Zorin Linux desktop

Zorin Linux lets you change the look of your desktop.
(click image to enlarge)

One of these embellishments is a modified bottom panel that has the look and feel of the Windows start menu and task bar. Another key design difference is Zorin’s familiar default Windows 7-like interface. This combination goes a long way towards reducing the learning curve of migrating to Linux while still experiencing the main advantages of Linux.

For many newcomers to Linux, Zorin has a deal maker that is unmatched in any other Linux distribution. It comes with several integrated tools that let you modify Zorin’s appearance. Look Changer lets you decide how the desktop looks and acts. You can tweak the look and feel even more with Splash Screen Manager, Internet Browser Manager and Background Plus.

For example, with a click of a button you can have the desktop accurately the look and function of Windows 7, Windows XP or GNOME 2 in the free versions of Zorin OS. The Premium versions also include the Windows 2000, Unity and Mac OS X looks.

Free Or Not?

As I continue to tour various Linux distributions, I am seeing a trend that raises concerns. Traditionally, the Linux OS has been available for free as a hallmark of the open source software concept.

Paying for specialized Linux versions or subscribing for support features is nothing new. But offering users a few basic fully functional distro versions while charging for a premium release with more extensive features of a particular distro seems to violate the intent of FOSS (Free Open Source Software) principles.

Paying for a premium version of Zorin poses problems if you live in the U.S. The website only displays Euro prices.

Getting It

Three free versions are available for download. Zorin OS 6 Core is the standard desktop version of Zorin OS. It comes in 32-bit and 64-bit (1.4) versions.

Zorin OS 6.1 Lite is the streamlined version of Zorin OS. It is designed for use on old and low-spec computers. Zorin OS 6 Educational is for educational purposes.

Several paid versions are available with specialty open source packages for business, gaming and multimedia.

Don’t ignore the warning on the download page. It recommends using the Firefox web browser to avoid file corruption issues during the download process. I ignored that warning and had to do it over again. The ISO file failed to properly burn a live DVD otherwise.

Snappy Set Up

Zorin ran relatively fast from the live DVD version. But some features related to the desktop look and feel did not work from the live version. That is to be expected. Once I installed Zorin to my test machine’s hard drive, all the functionality was present.

For instance, Zorin enables a few desktop visual effects. You can tweak the look and feel of these animations by going to System Tools > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager.

This is the element missing as most Linux disros upgraded to GNOME 3 or pushed users into other desktop environments. In most cases, the desktop effects and animations that Compiz created are now only available in the KDE desktop and distros such as Zorin that retained that functionality.

No Fuss

For those who detest fiddling, Zorin ships with all codecs enabled. This lets you watch videos and listen to streaming music without having to set up any of the player applications. This is a strong selling point, once that resembles the experience with Linux Mint.

One of the things you can change if you want is the default background. Zorin ships with more than 25 artistically pleasing images. Access them by right-clicking on the desktop or choosing the Appearance option from the System Settings menu in the System Tools area.

Zorin Linux desktop

Zorin lets you choose from a number of different backgrounds.
(click image to enlarge)
Zorin Linux desktop

The Windows-like start menu will appeal to Microsoft users.
(click image to enlarge)

I was generally impressed with Zorin. Only one drawback would deter me from adopting it as my main Linux OS. I found no easy way to set up virtual workspaces.

Pleasing Panel

Zorin uses a modified version of the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) as a replacement panel. It does not have all the visual affects found in the separate AWN app.

Instead, the modified AWN is integrated into the desktop. It functions as a traditional panel rather than a docking bar.

I found it to be less flexible than the original AWN. It also lacked the visual effects options that the real AWN has.

The real AWN functions as a dock similar to what the Mac OS uses. But the Zorin version morphed AWN into a panel-like feature hard-wired to the bottom of the screen. The traditional Gnome panel does not exist in Zorin.

Not All Rosy

After hours of fiddling with Zorin, I discovered that the panel (see next section) has a setting to add applets. Once I installed the window list and desktop switcher applets in the dock preferences, I could right click on the top of an open window to send it to a new virtual desktop.

I was also able to right-click on the top border of an open window without these applets installed to access the options to move the window to another workspace. But other than treating the moved window as a minimized icon on the task panel or using the window switcher, no other way exists to navigate among virtual workspaces.

This might not be a problem for Windows OS converts. Virtual workspaces is a feature not built into Windows and is only available with add-on programs installed.

Bottom Line

Zorin is a solid choice for hassle-free computing. Its design sidesteps the controversial desktop issues in recent OS upgrades of other Linux distros. It is an easy-to-use Linux platform that is ideal for newcomers and veteran Linux users alike.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.


  • "A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

    The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

    The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

    The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere. Being free to do these things means (among other things) that you do not have to ask or pay for permission to do so."

    Zorin is free software and lists clearly it falls under GPL on its front page.

    The extended distributions do not unlock "secret features"; they pretty much are either tested, effective program bundles that people find popular– or paid support tickets, which is what *every* Linux distro has.

    Therefore, have no fear. No one compromises their principles.

  • "But offering users a few basic fully functional distro versions while charging for a premium release with more extensive features of a particular distro seems to violate the intent of FOSS (Free Open Source Software) principles."

    Zorin Core is a full OS. As a matter of fact, I ended up removing software. I have also tried PC Linux Zen Mini. That is a basic OS. You have to download and install all but the GUI, web browser and package manager. A concept that appeals to me. Regardless, all the software is in the repositories and open source means it is free, as in free beer, unless you want to donate, which is an excellent idea.

    Yes, like all Linux you can customize Zorin to your tastes. I use mine as a music box, and added many audio programs to edit and play music.

    I think the main point of the premium versions is you do not have to download and burn the CD/DVD. I do agree that the download and burning are the biggest problem, and would love to see a torrent.

    That said, many Windows users do not know how to extract the ISO while burning and buying the premium version solves all these problems.

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